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A Fishy Story
Sea Life Centre (Great Yarmouth)
Member Name: sandemp
Sea Life Centre (Great Yarmouth)
Advantages: The touch pool, the sharks
Disadvantages: Expensive, not big enough, walkways a little narrow
*Review based on a visit in June 2011
Situated just past Wellington Pier on Marine Parade, Great Yarmouth Sealife Centre is an expensive way to spend a couple of hours. Having spent some time researching days out, I had discovered that the cheapest way of visiting here was to find some of the buy one get one free vouchers that are readily available. Even with these vouchers entry still cost us £30 for four adults and a toddler and personally I think we paid twice as much as our visit was worth.
The entrance to the Sealife Centre is well posted and on entering you have to pass through the gift shop to the counter to pay. Call me cynical, but a small part of me couldn't help but wonder if this was a ploy to find it's way into my wallet, just in case I decided the entry fee was too high. Anyhow, once the displays of soft toys were navigated, paying our entrance fee was easy enough, major debit and credit cards are accepted along with cash. A nice touch is that along with my receipt I was given a couple of money off vouchers, one for the seal sanctuary at Hunstanton (which we didn't use) and another for Merrivale Model Village (which we did). Before actually entering the exhibit we had to subject ourselves to the indignity of having our hands stamped, which would then allow us to re-enter as many times as we liked throughout the day. (The ink did wash off easily, perhaps too easily as it was a rainy day and within minutes of leaving our stamps had turned into indistinct red splodges).
Once we'd finally gone through all this rigmarole we finally got to enter the centre proper, with the entrance being a fairly narrow doorway filled with polythene strips (just like you'd find at the entrance to a supermarket warehouse). Personally I found it quite difficult to navigate a buggy through this doorway, and feel it was poorly designed, but from the gasps of older children in front of us, they found this aspect quite exciting. Once through the strips, we were confronted with yet another money making aspect, this time in the form of a photographer, who asked us to all stand together in front of a screen so he could take a picture. Although you are under no obligation to purchase these photos, do be aware that hard copies are printed off and available to purchase at the exit. I, personally, wasn't keen on having this photo taken, but as the rest of the party were, I acquiesced. The photos weren't bad quality, but at £6 for one or £10 for two, I do think they were quite expensive for a 7" by 5" print (even though they did come in a fairly nice cardboard frame).
Once the photos were taken, we finally made our way to see some actual sea life. Rather than being allowed to roam freely among the various tanks, we had to follow a strict, one-way route. The path was fairly even but quite narrow in places with the occasional sloped area. In order to show the exhibits off to their best advantage the lighting is quite dim, meaning that I did find a few areas that felt claustrophobic, especially when there were several parties trying to look at the same exhibit. As well as a toddler in a buggy there was also his 92 year old Great Grandma and there were a few places where she needed an elbow to lean on for support. While I managed to get a single stroller around with only a little difficulty, I would say that it would be an extremely tight squeeze for an adult wheelchair or double side-by-side buggy.
Most of the actual exhibits were pretty interesting, with there being something that impressed each of our party, from 14 month old Freddy to his 92 year old Grandma. The first exhibit we came to was the shipwreck where a number of fish could be found. Freddy was particularly impressed with the big fish here, that he could see through the glass sides. I was really pleased that Freddy could see most of the fish throughout the centre without needing to be carried. We must have spent a good ten minutes in this area. We were also allowed to take photos throughout the whole of the centre, although the flash did need to be turned off at certain points to prevent stress to breeding animals.
After these big fish (the names of which totally elude me) we moved on to the jellyfish exhibit, which was a particularly dark area, presumably to show off these luminescent creatures to the full. Disappointingly there were a couple of tanks in this area that appeared to be empty, and all of the tanks were above Freddy's sightline. I also found that this area didn't seem to hold the attention of many of the other visitors, which meant that due to the relatively narrow walkways we were getting pushed around a bit. Those jellyfish I did manage to see were beautiful and looked suitably eerily as they floated in their tanks.
The penguin display was a little disappointing, I felt that the enclosure and pool were a little small and there were too few viewing windows. There was also an outdoor viewing area, but as it was raining I didn't take advantage of this and neither did anyone else meaning that this area was a real bottleneck with several rude adults refusing to allow the children room. I believe there were four Humboldt penguins in this enclosure, a male, female and their two young, which obviously means that they are happy enough to breed. As this particular breed of penguin is endangered in the wild, it's nice to know that by visiting here I've done a little to help them.
As well as the penguins, Great Yarmouth Sealife centre also runs a seahorse breeding programme, with tanks showing various species of these delicate creatures at various stages of development. This is one of the area where flash photography is not permitted and was an area that I found fascinating along with their close cousins the Sea Dragons. Another exhibit that was particularly enjoyed by Freddy's Great Grandma was the rays. She spent a good amount of time here especially enjoying that they rays appeared to be coming to the surface to say hello. Although she was sorely tempted, there was a sign saying not to touch these elegant and friendly creatures.
Freddy's favourite exhibit was probably the touch pool, the one area where you are positively encouraged to touch the animals. When we arrived at this area a talk was being given on the various creatures and when this had finished the staff member changed and Freddy was helped to touch a starfish, which he found distinctly funny. I must say that this area was well supervised and the member of staff was only to happy to answer questions. As well as the occasional member of staff dotted about and the talks in various areas, all the exhibits have clear signs stating what animals are in there with some basic details and there are also a number of signs dotted around with questions for the children to answer.
Perhaps the most impressive exhibit is the shark tank and tunnel, which houses various types (and size) of shark along with sea turtles. As with everything else, size certainly does matter, and it was the very largest of the sharks that impressed the whole party the most. As we moved into this area there was yet another talk going on, but as Freddy had got fed up with adults talking we took advantage of the fact that everyone else was occupied to move into the shark tunnel. I will say that it was pretty impressive to look up and see a huge shark basking above us. I also loved the decoration within this exhibit, a huge Medusa head, which looked oh so dramatic and even more so when a massive turtle swam by.
A new exhibit for this year is a pair of African Dwarf Crocodiles, I must say I've never seen this particular breed before and liked the fact that they were at adult eye level so that I could actually see them. There again, this did mean that once more, Freddy had to be removed from his stroller so that he could see them. Just past this area, which was decorated with a jungle theme, there was the chance to pan for treasure. Although Freddy couldn't do this for himself, Daddy did have a go and we were allowed to take two pieces of treasure with us. (A very tiny pebble and equally tiny piece of fools gold).
Other notable exhibits include, a Great Yarmouth Harbour exhibit, with local fish, a lobster in an exhibit decorated with a toilet and for Disney fans a tropical fish exhibit where they can find both Nemo and Dory. Just before you leave through the exit into the shop, there's the chance to buy copies of the photos that were taken as you entered. All in all, I would say it took us about one and a half hours to make our way round and while some exhibits impressed, others certainly did not and we did feel slightly robbed considering the entrance fee.
Once the actual exhibit has been explored, there's the shop to navigate, which features the usual high-priced tat, although I must say that most of the souvenirs are actually specific to the Sealife Centre and there are some bargains to be had. I bought a very nice lunch bag for Freddy for only £2.50, which is now regularly used for days out. Along with the shop there is a restaurant/café, which we didn't use, again prices seemed rather high. There is also a free soft play area, which Freddy was too young to use and a number of craft activities (including crazy sand) that you had to pay for. There were also toilets in this area, which were clean enough and provided both disabled and baby changing facilities.
To be honest, I'd be really hard pressed to recommend a visit to Great Yarmouth Sealife Centre, not only is the entrance fee expensive for what you get, but they also seem to take every possible opportunity to wring yet more money out of you. Yes there were exhibits that each of us enjoyed, but the experience was simply over too quickly and the one way system led to us feeling rushed in the areas where we did find something to interest us. All I can say is I'm glad that I didn't pay full price and so am giving The Great Yarmouth Sealife Centre a disappointing three stars out of five and suggesting there are better and cheaper ways of spending an afternoon.
*For up to date prices and opening hours please visit
Summary: Don't bother, there's better ways to spend your money
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